The first things to be taken were, surprisingly, the livestock.
It happened all within the span of one week- first, the cows grazing in the fields were found dead and bloody, in fields all across the village. The people suspected it may have been another of those wildcats; a hunting party was sent out, but they found nothing.
Unease spread among the villagers, but two days passed without incident.
The next to be taken were the pigs. This time the people were well and truly frightened- cows were out in the open, but pigs had sheds- sheds that were wrecked quite beyond repair, obviously done by a very large predatory animal. When the next, considerably smaller hunting party still came up with nothing, the headman decided it was time to take drastic measures.
He sent a letter out to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the closest kingdom with an even remotely approachable monarch. In the letter he pleaded for the aid of any knights the king had to spare, desperate to protect the people and their livelihoods.
Soon even the fields were being set aflame. The people were terrified, hungry, and hopeless, so when a party of knights and a squire finally arrived to relieve them of their plight, they could have jumped for joy.
The knights, three brothers, sat tall and proud upon their chestnut stallions, their emblems blazing on their shields. Sir Alastair, the eldest, looked haughtily down at the people, his considerable bulk and crimson hair making him stand out; with similar hair but much leaner in frame was the wild Sir Anrothan, second youngest; Sir Andras, with sandy brown hair and an inviting smile, seemed to be of a sweeter disposition than his brothers.
Not many people took notice of the last brother, who was not a knight but in fact a squire to Sir Alastair, struggling with several heavy packs and attempting to disembark from his tiny white pony. Those who did bother to speak with him only gathered that his name was Arthur before they promptly ran away from his irritable nature and his rather intimidating set of eyebrows.
The people of the village rejoiced, giving the brothers the best rooms of the inn and feeding them the little food they had left, having complete faith in their skills. Only Arthur was troubled by this level of trust, but his apprehensions were laughed away by his elder brothers with an altogether too hearty slap on the back.
He slept fitfully on the floor that night, simultaneously anticipating and dreading his first ever adventure, unaware of the true nature of the danger they were about to face.
When morning came, Arthur awoke to the first rays of the sun shining into his face and the butterflies in his stomach still fluttering about with nerves. He rose quickly, preparing all the necessary materials for battle- Alastair's greatsword, armour, and riding gear were all laid out onto the bed, and their food rations were replenished with as much as the village could sacrifice for them. He felt a pang of guilt at taking so much with them, but it seemed so little and knowing his brothers' appetites, it would barely last them a day.
He looked around furtively, then breathed a sigh of relief as it seemed none of his brothers had stirred yet. He then quietly took a pinch of white powder from a pouch hung about his waist, muttered a few words, and rubbed it into the shape of a rune on Alastair's breastplate. The powder glowed for a few moments, then faded, becoming invisible against the steel.
He wiped his fingers on his handkerchief, pleased. "Ten times stronger," he muttered, hoping he had correctly recalled the spell that his secret tutor, the Great Wizard Gilbert of Prussia, had taught him.
He looked out the window and gave a rather startled squeak; the sun was rising rapidly and he still hadn't completed his preparations for the day. He ran down the stairs, meeting the innkeeper's daughter along the way and begging for her to send up some breakfast for his brothers. That done, he made his way over to the stables, first feeding his brothers' horses before approaching his small white pony.
"Oren," he called out softly, reaching to pet his pale hair. Oren whinnied, nudging Arthur's hand insistently.
"Sorry, boy, I only have this left," Arthur smiled apologetically at his companion, bringing out a handful of chopped carrot that he had saved from supper.
It wasn't long before another voice broke through the early morning haze.
"Arthur!" Alastair's booming voice echoed through the inn. "Arthur, get back up here now!"
"I'm coming!" He yelled in reply, cursing under his breath at his brother's impatience. It was, perhaps, not proper for a squire to respond in such a way to his sire, but hell if he cared. It was his brother after all.
"Armour me," Alastair ordered as soon as Arthur arrived at the room. He was already dressed in his simple linen tunic and breeches, but he seemed annoyed- even more so than usual. "Anrothan and Andras got the servant girls to do it for them, but you're my squire so I'm stuck with you."
Ah. That explained it.
Picking up the secretly magicked armour, Arthur prepared Alastair for battle. In all his sixteen years of life, he had never truly liked any of his brothers- he was certain the feeling was reciprocated. Perhaps, on some (very, very deep and dark) level, he did love them, but too many memories of being bullied and teased poisoned any good feelings he had towards them. If it weren't for his dream of knighthood (and magehood, as well, but in secret) he would have already run away from home.
Arthur had just finished armouring Alastair and turned around to don his own leather armour when his brother spoke again.
"So what do you suppose this thing is? I reckon it's a bunch of bandits."
"Perhaps," Arthur responded, tying the cords around his waist. "Not very good ones, I expect. Otherwise they wouldn't have been so obvious."
"Psh. So typically critical. Your voice is becoming very annoying."
Arthur bit back a retort just when the door flew open, revealing Andras and Anrothan in full armour, with two giggling blondes behind them.
"Excuse us, ladies, but we really must depart." Andras smiled, causing the girls to blush.
"You know, towns to save, dragons to slay." Anrothan winked, then turned to the two in the room. "Come on, you two, we're losing daylight!"
The girls left and the brothers followed behind them, making their way to the stables.
The sun was well past its peak when the brothers decided to stop in a large clearing in the middle of the neighbouring forest, sweating under their armour and wanting nothing more than a cool drink to ease their parched throats. Andras was the first to dismount from his stallion, removing his helmet and shaking out droplets of sweat from his hair. The other knights followed suit, leaving Arthur to tether the horses to a nearby tree.
Arthur itched to take off his leather armour but resisted, not wanting to be caught unprepared by wild animals- or worse, a gang of bloodthirsty rogues. He could hold his own in a fight, he supposed, but he was of a much slighter stature than any of his brothers and that gave him a severe disadvantage in close combat. He settled instead for adjusting the belt pouches so that they settled loosely around his hips instead of tight around his waist. Not a very good compromise, he thought, but it provided some relief for his tired and aching muscles.
His brothers each leaned against a tree, trying to get comfortable in their bulky metal armour.
"Oi, thicko," Anrothan groaned, waving a hand lazily in Arthur's general direction. "Pass me the flask from my saddlebag."
Arthur was not amused. "If you would just keep track of your own things, you lazy prick, you'd know it was empty."
Andras hit him upside the head. "Don't say that!"
"Alright, alright, mother." Anrothan scowled. "Not like you're much cleaner yourself."
"Shut up, you bunch of imbeciles," Alastair snapped. "We're still on a quest here, and if we return without anything to show, our rep's done for."
Arthur sighed and closed his eyes, leaning his head against the rough bark of the tree. At the moment he didn't care about his elder brothers' squabbling. He was tired, hungry, and uncomfortably warm underneath the leather vest, perspiration soaking through the thin material of his shirt. He closed his eyes, allowing sleep to take him. A few seconds, he thought sleepily to himself. Just a few seconds of peace.
The next thing he knew, he was being roughly shaken awake by Alastair.
"Get up, you bloody son of a- get up!"
A fierce roar came from somewhere in the forest, and Arthur scrambled to his feet, drawing his rapier out of its sheath. Alastair and the others had their greatswords out in front of them, eyes darting to find the hidden threat.
The atmosphere was tense, the metallic scent of steel and sweat filling the air. Arthur swallowed nervously, ever so slightly shifting closer to Alastair, wide green eyes alert and fearful.
Suddenly, the forest itself seemed to split in half, screaming as a huge creature burst from the trees. It was reptilian in nature, but was borne aloft on large, leathery wings. The scales glinted in the sunlight, and it looked suspiciously like a-
"Holy feckin' shit," Anrothan breathed in awe.
The dragon was about thirty feet long, with a huge, heavily-muscled frame and golden metallic scales covering its body. It was blinding, like the sun itself, but a hundred times more breathtaking. It had a long, sinuous neck that whipped around from side to side, as if shaking the remaining leaves from its head. The gigantic wings that kept it aloft beat furiously, and the wind it produced nearly drove the Kirkland brothers to their knees.
Then the dragon let out another earsplitting roar and swooped down on them, claws extended.
The brothers yelled in surprise and fear, scrambling away as the dragon landed in the centre of the clearing. It blinked, seemingly unaffected by its harsh landing, and opened its mouth wide, sending a jet of flame at a nearby tree.
Anrothan and Alastair, headstrong as ever, charged at the dragon with their swords drawn, fury on their faces and battlecries spilling from their throats. There were twin metallic clangs as their swords hit the scales, about as insignificant as an ant bite to the huge creature. It turned its gaze towards them, reptilian lips drawing back to spew fire...
Then it simply roared in pain as a bolt lodged itself between the scales in its neck. Andras, who had thought more quickly than his brothers, had dropped his sword and taken out his favourite crossbow, and was now loading it with another heavy-duty bolt. His eyes glinted steel as he raised the weapon once again to the dragon.
Arthur was frozen in place. His rapier seemed useless in this situation, and being a squire he had no other weapons with him. His brothers were fighting furiously, hacking ineffectually away to distract the dragon from Arthur and Andras. Arthur's mind raced desperately for a solution, anything-
His fingers brushed against his belt pouch.
Withdrawing ingredients with shaking hands, he crushed a handful of herbs in his fingers, whispering a levitation spell. A nearby fallen log started to rise off the ground, floating higher and higher, moving towards the dragon and hitting it on the side of the head before crashing. Arthur sighed- it had worked. The dragon was distracted, trying to figure out where the log had come from, and was no longer snapping at his brothers.
His relief lasted, of course, until the dragon looked him directly in the eye.
With a shout, he hurriedly drew out a handful of dragondust, not bothering to measure in his haste. He closed his eyes, throwing the dust, crying out, "Ivahsi yuduin-!"
He was slammed against the ground before he could finish his spell, pinned there by an unbearable weight. He opened his eyes, screaming as he found the startlingly electric blue eyes of the dragon staring back at him.
He had never felt so much terror in his life. He could see himself reflected in the dragon's bright blue eyes- sandy blond hair fanned out, framing his chalk-white face frozen with fear, his mouth still open in a helpless scream.
The dragon's lips drew back in what seemed to be a mocking grin, dripping, sharp teeth grazing Arthur's cheek. Hot breath spilled over him and enveloped him in a terrible blast of heat. He felt faint. Dimly, he was aware of his brothers yelling his name and the clash of metal against metal. Tears streamed down his face. He was sure this was his last moment alive-
Then suddenly the claw tightened around him, digging into the soil. The dragon extended its wings, flapping suddenly and sending the knights falling to their knees.
The last thing Arthur knew was the feeling of flying, before he fainted.
Warmth. That was the first thing Arthur noticed when he woke up, muscles sore and aching. He kept his eyes closed, relishing the gentle heat and softness that surrounded him. He sank gratefully into the downy pillows and mattress, letting out a small moan of appreciation at this little comfort so rarely afforded him in his squire training. He smiled at the answering rumble, and drifted off to sleep...
Wait. He furrowed his brow as he thought. Answering... rumble?
With a gasp he shot up, tangling himself in the blankets and screaming as he came face to face with the dragon.
The dragon let out a sharp, irritated breath, and opened an eye lazily to examine its panicking captive. It bared its teeth in a ferocious snarl, flicking a tongue out to touch a gleaming fang. Arthur looked around wildly for an escape, but there was none- he was in a cave, and its gigantic mouth was covered completely by the dragon.
An odd white smoke started to fill the cave, and Arthur coughed violently and screwed his eyes shut, sure that the dragon was about to rage at him and swallow him whole for disturbing its rest. When a few moments passed and nothing happened, he opened his eyes only to find the smoke cleared, and in the dragon's place, a young man.
His hair was a shocking blond, the colour of sunlight on the sand, and his tanned skin had the same strange metallic lustre as the dragon's gold scales. His eyes were a startling sky blue, sparkling with intelligence and mischief. A very faint outline of scales patterned his skin, beginning at the line of his jaw and sweeping down the right side of his body, leaving the left unmarked and unblemished. Arthur followed the pattern as it wrapped smoothly around the man, curving down to his hips...
Arthur let out an embarrassed yelp and dove under the blankets, cheeks flaming. He could hear laughter from the dragon-man, as well as the sound of rustling cloth which, he hoped, meant that he was putting on something to wear.
When he deemed it safe to look, he lowered the blankets slowly from his face, eyes wide and mind still reeling from all the surprises he had seen that day. He raised his eyes to meet the man's, and he swallowed nervously, feeling a tight ball of fear sink in his stomach. What was the man planning, and why hadn't he been killed yet? His knuckles turned white, his grip tightening on the blankets as he wondered whether dragons liked to torture their prey first.
"Why, hello there, human," the man spoke, a smile on his face and his tone light and cheerful.
Arthur struggled to speak. "W-what did... what did you do with my brothers? Where am I? Why am I here?" He hated himself for allowing a tremor of fear to seep through his voice.
"Hey, calm down! Those were your brothers back there? I didn't kill them, if that's what you meant. You're in my house, but consider it yours for now. I've got enough stuff to keep you occupied, I think."
For the first time, Arthur noticed the heaps of gold, jewels, and rare precious objects surrounding the bed, disorganized but still awe-inspiring. There was a shelf of old, yellowing leatherbound books; a collection of delicately carved ivory statuettes; a chest with bolts of fine cloth spilling out; and oddly enough, an old and battered water pipe. The treasure seemed to extend until the end of the cave- he couldn't be sure, as it was already shrouded in darkness. He caught sight of his leather vest, armguards and boots, and he realized with a start that he was only in his shirt and breeches.
"I'm Alfred, by the way," the dragon-man said conversationally. Arthur couldn't suppress a shiver of fear at the sudden thought of being killed casually, like this strange exchange. "I think the others called you Arthur, yeah?"
He nodded, and licked his lips nervously. "You never answered my question- why am I here?" He asked again, partly dreading the answer.
Alfred stiffened, then turned his head to give Arthur a gleefully vicious, feral grin.
"Oh, you'll find out soon enough."
Arthur sighed as he sank deeper into the cool spring of clear water- perfectly clean, Alfred had assured him, with nothing living in it at all- that was tucked into one corner of the cave. The sunlight from the giant entranceway fell in shining strips along the water, blocked by the looming stalactites and stalagmites, lighting the spring in irregular patches. Arthur frowned at the picture he painted- his head and shoulders illuminated in the sparkling water, everything below shrouded in darkness, except for the very tips of his toes. It was a comical sight, if the way Alfred had openly laughed at him earlier was any indication.
Speaking of Alfred... Arthur looked around cautiously. The dragon-man had been eerily quiet, unseen for the past hour or so, probably a good thing considering that their first conversation had ended with Arthur collapsing into a nervous breakdown. He had then shown Arthur around the cavern, proudly pointing out his favourite acquisitions from around the world- French and Indian literature, Italian art, a broken-off part of what must have been a beautiful stained glass window, gleaming weapons, and curiously enough, the old rusted pipe. Alfred had refused to tell him the story of that particular item, preferring to show him instead the view from the entranceway.
It was only when Arthur was at the edge of the gaping mouth, uncomfortably aware of the sheer drop of the cliff below the cave and, consequently, of the sheer impossibility of his escape, that he began to cry.
He wished he had never accompanied Alastair on the quest. He wanted to go home, sleep in his own bed, surround himself with his belongings and the familiarity of the castle. He wanted to go back to his brothers. However much he seemed to hate them, they were nothing compared to this, this strong, intimidating not-man who called himself Alfred. Looking down at the tiny trees below the cliff, he realised that the only way he was ever getting out was if Alfred decided to let him go- and at the moment there was hardly any chance of that.
It wasn't as if he was terribly afraid of Alfred, although he had been, in the beginning. He had been utterly terrified, but so far the dragonman had not attempted to eat him, maim him, or even injure him at all. It was almost as if Alfred was going out of his way to check his strength and not scare Arthur into throwing himself off the cliff- although Arthur couldn't think of any reason why he would be that kind. Alfred was being every inch the gracious host, and though Arthur would much rather be anywhere else, he found himself- much against his will- enjoying the happy companionship that he provided.
Heaving another sigh, he pushed himself up on the rocks and reached for the thin, embroidered bathrobe that had mysteriously appeared beside him. Alfred's doing, he guessed. His captor was surprisingly thoughtful.
The bath had relaxed him greatly, and he walked over to the large bed, stretching as he did so. He found Alfred, a dragon once again, curled up around it, breath steaming slightly in the cold air. He was asleep, and Arthur took the time to examine him properly.
The dragon was even more magnificent without terror clouding his eyes, Arthur thought. He could easily see the glittering gold scales, lined in strange, intricate patterns on the dragon's skin. Strong muscles rippled under the scales, leading up to the huge, leathery wings. He reached out a hand and touched the warmth of Alfred's powerful forearm, trailing it down the rough scales until he felt the sharpness of a talon, dangerously cutting even at its base.
The dragon let out a snort, and white smoke clouded Arthur's vision before the man Alfred was standing before him again.
"You're pretty brave, for a human. Not many people could approach a sleeping dragon like that."
Arthur smiled sardonically. "It's a gift." He averted his eyes from Alfred's nakedness, willing the flush in his cheeks to go away. "Could you put on some clothes like a decent man?"
Alfred let out a loud laugh. "I don't wanna. Besides," he crawled onto the bed and placed a large hand on Arthur's shoulder, smirking. "You really shouldn't talk to me that way."
His hand moved up to cup Arthur's face. He leaned closer, breath ghosting across Arthur's pink cheeks, blue eyes staring into green. "You're beautiful, you know that?" Alfred whispered.
Alfred leaned even closer, forcing Arthur to lie back against the bed to avoid touching their faces together. His hands moved to wrap around the human's wrists, gripping gently but firmly.
"It's why I decided to bring you back here. There's just something about you that's..." Alfred's eyes darkened. "Intriguing."
Arthur shivered as he felt the warm touch of Alfred's lips on the line of his jaw. The kisses trailed lower, and Arthur found himself incapable of moving. The strong grip on his wrist was released, and fingers shifted, caressing his chest and slipping around his waist. His bathrobe was pushed to the side, allowing Alfred more access to the pale expanse of skin.
Arthur couldn't think, couldn't speak. This wasn't like anything he had ever felt before, from the rapid pounding of his heart to the fluttering pleasure curling in his stomach. He wondered vaguely what kind of magic this dragon wielded to make him before all thought stopped completely as Alfred pressed their mouths together.
The kiss was heavy and forceful, making Arthur's head spin. It wasn't as if he had never been kissed before- there had been those secret trysts with the girls from the town and even some of his fellow page boys- but those kisses had been awkward, fumbling and inexperienced, nothing like what Alfred was doing now. Something warm and wet ran across his bottom lip, and with a start Arthur realised it was Alfred's tongue. He opened his mouth reflexively, and gasped into the kiss as it slipped inside.
The kiss was turning into something else, something deeper and rougher. Arthur felt a sharp sting in his lip and tasted iron, and the reality of what was happening crashed back down on him. Alfred was not human. He was a dragon, with sharp teeth and claws and fire and, oh God, the teeth had been so close-! With a cry he pushed wildly against Alfred's chest, kicking and writhing until he managed to free himself from the strong grip the dragon had on him, and then he ran.
He had no idea where he was going or how he would get out, but all he knew was that he had to run as fast as he could, to escape this horrible cave and the dragon that preyed on boys who couldn't defend themselves. He ran, panic clouding his mind, chest heaving and muscles straining furiously in a bid for freedom.
Then his foot crashed into nothing and he was falling.
The cliff! he thought, terrified, as he fell further away from the cave entrance, plummeting down towards the trees below. There was a roar, a flash of gold, and for the second time that day he found himself swept up into a huge, warm claw, settled against clinking metallic scales.
It wasn't long before he was set on his feet again, trembling, while the familiar white smoke appeared and Alfred the man materialized in front of him.
"Oh, God, Arthur! I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to scare you like that! I just- I just didn't think and I-"
"Why did you save me?" Arthur asked shakily, then he licked his lips and asked the question that had been bothering him since he had been taken. "What do you really want from me?"
"It's like I said. You're... you're interesting, Artie. I mean, it's not often I see a human like you, and-"
"I'm interesting?" he yelled, breathing heavily. "You think that justifies it? You kidnapped me, you jerk, you took me away from my family, and you tried to-" his throat clenched around the word. "To rape me," he whispered, averting his eyes. He realised his bathrobe was still hanging open and he fixed it hurriedly, holding it closed with shaking hands, his face burning.
"I wasn't going to do that, honest! I just wanted to kiss you and I thought, you know, since we were sort of warming up to each other, you'd be okay with it."
"You utterly selfish git, do you not think of anything at all? Why the hell would I be fine with it?" His voice broke and he slid down to his knees. "Please," he begged, hating the tone and the tears that were threatening to fall. "Just let me go home."
Alfred knelt down in front of him and hugged him tightly. Arthur stiffened, but didn't protest. "A dragon never lets go of his treasure," he whispered harshly, causing a shiver of fear and pleasure to run down Arthur's spine. He released him from the embrace, placing a hand on Arthur's cheek and gently holding him in place. "But I promise you, I'll never try anything like that again. I'll be nothing but nice. I'll let you visit your brothers too!" He buried his face in Arthur's neck and for once, the smaller man didn't think of how close he was to being killed. "I just can't let you go."
Arthur sighed. Alfred's face was earnest, with something pleading and dark in his expression at the same time. His eyes showed nothing but honesty as he spoke, and Arthur found himself nodding reluctantly. "I understand," he said- and he did, a little, even though the rational part of his mind screamed at him to not trust this dragon who wanted to keep him forever. It was the nature of dragons to take and keep, but Alfred had spared his brothers, saved his life, and apart from the kiss, had treated him with nothing but kindness and consideration.
"So... we try again with this friendship thing?" Alfred grabbed his hand and held it tightly, blue eyes alight with hesitant hope.
Arthur couldn't help but give a tiny smile in return. "I suppose so."
It was, by far, the most awkward family dinner Arthur had ever attended.
Alfred spoiled him too much, he decided, as he surreptitiously wiped perspiring hands on the silk of his form-fitting black breeches. The outfit he was in had attracted him many more stares from the servants and townspeople than he was used to, which flattered him a little- though he hadn't missed the dark glares from Alfred that had sent them scurrying away- but now that he was inside the castle it only seemed awkwardly rich even compared to the traditional noble dress of his brothers. Their patterned damask clothes paled in comparison to the heavy brocade of his dark green doublet, even if the style and cut of theirs appropriately showed their high rank. The wide white sleeves of his shirt billowed out from under the doublet, making him feel simultaneously pretentious and out of his league.
A large, gold-tinged hand covered his, reassuring in its warmth. "Hey," Alfred whispered. "Relax."
Alfred himself didn't look too comfortable, Arthur decided with amusement. He wasn't at all used to the constriction of clothing, and he was sweating and fidgeting under the heavy layers of fabric. His clothes were similar to Arthur's, his doublet white threaded with gold- flashy as ever, Arthur thought- and his breeches a pale cream colour. His outfit was more regal looking than anyone else's- but then again, he was a dragon, and the labels of society couldn't really apply to him.
Across from them sat Arthur's three brothers, looking concerned and forbidding at the same time. It had been a little over two years since they had last seen each other, and even though Arthur was now eighteen and far from the gangly teen he had been, he still felt small and overshadowed. When they had started exchanging letters, about a month after Arthur's capture, their correspondence had been filled with uncharacteristic concern and brotherly protectiveness. It took a long time to assure them that Alfred was not fattening him up for a feast or stealing his virtue ("I'm not some damsel in distress!")- although Arthur wondered sometimes about the latter, as Alfred sometimes got that look in his eyes, though he never acted on it- but they were still wary of the dragon, especially since they were meeting him for the first time. Not to mention, Alfred had brought his own brother along.
Matthew, silver as Alfred was gold, nonetheless had a human form almost identical to his brother's. His pale skin was cold to the touch, though, his violet eyes were piercing but kind. He seemed shyer than Alfred, but there was a hint of steel in his gaze that belied his timid air. He seemed to go unnoticed by the people in the room, although the three elder Kirkland brothers had greeted him when he came through the door.
"So... Nice to meet you all! Again, I guess." Alfred said brightly, trying to dispel the tension. The brothers stared at him coldly, and he felt he had to elaborate. "Because the first time we met, I was trying to scare you and you were all trying to kill me, though that didn't work too well, and yeah, ah, heh..."
Arthur kicked him under the table, and Matthew sent his brother a despairing look.
Alastair, already restraining himself from jumping at Alfred from the minute he walked through the door, couldn't help but send a fierce glare. "And how have you been treating Arthur?" he growled, cutting straight to the point.
"Can't believe a beast like you would know how to treat a noble," he added, his eyes icy. "Even if he was only a squire when you kidnapped him."
"Kept him for two years, even. God only knows what you were doing to him then." Andras looked at Arthur meaningfully. "I know we haven't been the best of brothers to you, but you can trust me on this. If you don't want to do something, you can say no."
"Now, wait just a-"
"You think this guy's gonna take no for an answer, Andy?" Anrothan let out a laugh that sounded more like a bark. He started to draw his sword. "Look at him. I say we take him down now and-!"
Arthur's voice rang out, halting the argument. He had stood up and was breathing heavily, hands clenched into fists. "It may have been two years since I was part of society, but I haven't forgotten protocol. We are guests in your house, and it is dishonourable of you to treat us in this manner!"
Andras looked pleadingly at Arthur. "Brother, please-"
"All my life, you've belittled me and talked over my head like I never meant anything to you. Now you're all high and mighty and still acting like I don't understand a thing of what's going on. Alfred has treated me with the highest respect, which is much more than I can say about you!"
Alastair stood as well. "Arthur, I will not tolerate this in our house!"
"No." Arthur threw a dark glare at the servants, and they scurried to the kitchen to bring out the food. "I am still a part of this noble house and I say that we are going to sit down and eat like a happy family."
It was an stiff parting at the end, everyone silently agreeing to forgo the after-dinner niceties in favour of leaving as fast as possible. The elder Kirkland brothers had not forgiven Arthur's impassioned outburst, it seemed, as they said their goodbyes with handshakes and deliberately blank faces.
"Fare you well, Arthur."
There was a tense moment of silence, then Alastair swept Arthur into a bone-crushing hug. The youngest Kirkland squeaked in surprise, but did not protest. The embrace was quick, and Alastair released him almost as soon as they had touched.
"You.. ah.. really won't be coming back home then?" he asked gruffly, and Arthur couldn't help but smile.
"I can't. Besides," he added, seeing Alfred's concerned look. "I like my new life. You have to admit it is an adventure."
Alastair gave a noise of assent, and stepped away.
It took Arthur, Alfred, and Matthew half an hour to reach the nearest forest, and another quarter of an hour to reach a big enough clearing for the dragons to take off.
"Hey, Mattie, it was awesome to see you again!" Alfred slapped his brother heartily on the back, though Matthew didn't so much as flinch. "We should do this again sometime, yeah?"
"I think not," Arthur said dryly. He turned to the other dragon. "It was lovely meeting you, Matthew."
"You too, Arthur." Matthew smiled shyly. "Now, uh, if you'll excuse me..." He began to remove his clothing, and Arthur politely looked away. When he was done, the familiar white mist rose around him and a giant silver dragon took his place, clothing firmly held in one clawed paw. Matthew nodded at the pair, and took off, his translucent wings beating gracefully in the air. It didn't take long for them to follow suit, Alfred's clothes held securely in Arthur's arms, and Arthur holding on fast to the dragon's neck as they sped through the night air.
When they arrived at the cave, Alfred bowed his head to let Arthur dismount gracefully, then transformed back into his human form. He did not take back the clothes. The two stood by the bed and the treasure quietly, unsure of where to begin the conversation.
"So..." Alfred broke the silence. "We're back."
"Your brother was very nice. Absolutely pleasant company."
Alfred snorted. "Wish I could say the same for your brothers, no offense meant." He glanced at his companion, watching the glistening green eyes reflecting himself. "By the way, thanks for standing up for me there."
Arthur made a noncommittal noise. "I had to do it. They were threatening and accusing you, and you don't... you don't deserve that." He blushed and licked his lips nervously as he spoke, and Alfred's eyes darkened.
Arthur knew that Alfred was holding himself back. He had been, since that day two years ago when his recklessness had nearly caused Arthur's death. Arthur had to marvel at his self-control, sometimes- he knew it was hard for a dragon to quash his instincts. He was a little flattered by the attention, but at the same time he was overwhelmed at the sheer respect and consideration being shown to him, even as their wary watchfulness turned into friendship which turned into something confusing, something more. The intense gazes and hesitant touches still sent shivers up and down his spine, and the look Alfred was sending him now caused a thrill of anticipation to curl in his stomach.
He raised a hand to brush a lock of hair behind Alfred's ear. The dragonman looked at him in surprise, eyes widened, before lips formed into a hesitant, uncomprehending smile.
"You don't need to hold back," Arthur whispered, cheeks flushed and eyes averted.
Alfred's expression changed, and there was something darker, something feral in his gaze that almost made Arthur change his mind. But then he took Arthur's hand and touched it gently to the side of his neck, so Arthur could feel the slight roughness of the outlines of scales on the side of his body.
"I'm not a human, Arthur. If we... if we start something, I- I can't go back. I can't promise to always be gentle and I know I can't always give you what you want, though I try. But if there's one thing I can promise, it's that I'll stick with you for the rest of your life." He let out a shuddering breath, as if it was difficult for him to say the words. "Are you sure?"
Arthur glanced up at him as he spoke, eyes steely despite his inexperience, his tone firm. "I trust you."
And it was a promise in itself, an offering and a bond, something to chain them as much as it would set them free. Something in the thick tension that had been between them for years snapped, and they crashed onto the bed, a tangle of warm limbs and kisses and whispered nothings. It didn't take long for the kisses to turn into something more and the whispers to turn into breathless moans of mingled pain and pleasure that pervaded the rapidly cooling night air. Arthur's head swam with the overload of unfamiliar sensations, the burning feeling of Alfred around him, inside him, and he gasped helplessly in the air as his body arched and twisted, Alfred guiding him with large hands and kind smiles and steady murmured reassurances.
And when they finally lay exhausted, flushed and panting and sticky with sweat, whispering I love you and yes, for always against each other's skin, Arthur thought, hazily but with all certainty, that this was only the beginning of the greatest adventure of his life.